Northern Ireland

Agriculture department officials at Stormont over snow crisis

Farmers trying to reach livestock with hay
Image caption Many farmers were faced serious dangers as they tried to reach their animals

Officials from the Department of Agriculture will face a Stormont committee on Tuesday to explain their response to last month's severe weather.

Tens of thousands of homes were left without power when a blizzard hit parts of Northern Ireland.

Many farms were stranded and thousands of animals perished in the heavy snow.

The agriculture committee will also hear from the National Sheep Association.

Paul Frew, chair of the agriculture committee said people will learn from the crisis.

"I think it's a crisis that we have never experienced before and I think if anything, the department has learned that we should bring in air support quicker," he said.

"I believe if we had brought in air support 24 hours quicker, they would have seen the scale of this crisis."

Thousands of animals were stranded in counties Antrim, Down and Londonderry after days of severe weather. The spring blizzard began on 21 March.

It produced snow drifts of up to 18ft (5.4m) in some rural areas, and many families were confined to their homes for days due to impassable roads.

Up to 17,633 animal carcasses have been collected from farms in Northern Ireland following the snow.

The Executive agreed an aid package worth up to £5m to help those who have lost livestock.

It said it would pay for the collection and disposal of sheep which died in the blizzard.

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